Pipers Glen; a waterfall for fall

By ALLAN BILLARD* / Photograph courtesy of Inverness County



Lake Ainslie is an under-appreciated treasure in Cape Breton. It is not on the Cabot Trail and most visitors bypass it if they are going to Cheticamp, Baddeck, or elsewhere. More is the pity, because it is a sport fishing paradise and a favourite feeding ground for bald eagles. Rare is the day when eagles are not visible either soaring above the lake or perched in a favourite tree overlooking the water's edge.

One of the communities located on the pastoral shores of Lake Ainslie is Scotsville, named for the many Scots Highlanders who arrived in the area 200 years ago. Just three km north of there is Pipers Glen. (Photo, p. 9)

Despite being little known and hard to find, Pipers Glen still attracts its share of wilderness enthusiasts. Unfortunately, they often come in numbers too large for the fragile ecosystem to support. Even the current low-level visitation is having a high impact. The trail through the remnants of old growth forest needs immediate stabilization and a management plan. It is already showing signs of shortcutting and erosion which will discourage the wildlife and harm the forest's root system.

With a few protective railings and safety features, this special place could act as a natural laboratory offering lessons on how humans and nature can interact in a sustainable manner.

And there is a lot of nature in this area with which humans might interact! The falls are located in elevated and rugged terrain that has a thick covering of rich glacially deposited soil. It supports a lush, green forest of both hardwoods and conifers which has attracted a wide variety of forest floor invertebrates, birds, and small mammals.

While this bio-diversity makes for a pleasant 15-minute walk to the brook, the last five minutes must be spent carefully descending the vertical walls of the gorge hand over hand. If it were not for the rope railing, the return climb would be almost impossible.

This is the second element of the hike which requires sustainable development attention. Serviceable ladders and sturdy walkways may detract from the wilderness atmosphere, but they will improve safety and reduce the erosion which could ruin this site over time.

At the base of the falls, nothing can ruin the idyllic atmosphere. The sun glistens off the wet rocks as Matheson Glen Brook fans out to cover evenly the 20-metre-wide falls, one of the few falls in Nova Scotia that is wider than it is tall. The brook quietly funnels back together and then babbles onward. Noisy by nature, this waterfall does not detract from the site's air of peace and solitude, it actually enhances it. You may not ever want to go home again.

*Allan Billard is author of Waterfalls of Nova Scotia (Sand Dollar), from which this article is adapted.
If you go
Leave Highway 105 at Exit 5 in Whycocomagh, and turn onto Highway 395. Continue on Highway 395 along shore of Lake Ainslie and beyond Scotsville to Upper Margaree and junction with road to Egypt Brook and Keppoch, 31 km (19.25 mi) from Whycocomagh. Turn right, and follow the dirt road for 2 km (1.25 mi) to the junction with the Pipers Glen Road. Turn right, crossing the bridge over Egypt Brook. Follow the narrow dirt road for 1 km (.5 mi), mostly uphill. When the road turns left and starts to descend, watch carefully on your right for a white signpost with red lettering that says Egypt Falls. Park on the road but not blocking the thoroughfare. There's also a 14 km (8.75 mi) return trail which will take you about three hours to hike. (Directions are from Michael Haines and are more precise than given by Allan in his book).